Monday, May 2, 2016

Navigating the Ups and Downs

I belong to a women's Facebook Group called Women Who Sail. It was started by Charlotte Kaufman of The Rebel Heart, and has grown to over 8,000 members. Even with all those members, the tenor has remained helpful, caring, and positive, a feat that not many online sailing or boating communities can claim. If you are a woman who sails, or motors, or dreams of either, it is a tremendous resource.

One of the common threads in the group posts is that of discouraged ladies seeking some support and encouragement. While only a fraction of the members are full time cruisers or dreamers of such, selling everything and moving onto a boat can be the most trying venture a person can attempt. Once cruising, the learning curve is steep; the unexpected can sometimes be overwhelming. Among long-term cruisers, it is a well-known fact and oft-sited meme, that of the highs being higher and the lows being lower than land life and each cruiser has to find their own way through. I was thinking particularly about this issue this morning because after checking a few things off my project list yesterday and feeling pretty good about it, this morning I made the mistake of asking Tim what was on his list. Wow.

So how do we navigate those ups and downs, highs and lows? Clearly, the highs are great. Those fantastic take-your-breath-away sunsets, the hour long parade of dolphins dancing in your wake, the sight of that rare Tropic Bird, the lightning on the horizon and, yes, finishing a water pump overhaul and installation. The lows? They come in all sorts.

Loneliness can sometimes be the hardest. The cruising community is in a constant state of flux depending on where you happen to be at the moment. Dinner Key Mooring Field? Tons of cruisers, lots of community and social functions. Hoffman Cay in the Berry Islands? Better like your shipmates because they're the only ones you're going to see. Then there's the ever-present missing of family members back on shore: aging parents and grandbabies that grow up entirely too fast.

The current state of boat maintenance is probably the other main cause of deep lows. You spend a lot of time maintaining the boat and yet it will knock the feet right out from under you every chance it gets. We have a good friend who finally got to leave the dock after a long summer refit, only to have it break down a few times on their way south. Again. And they're not isolated. Two other friends have been held hostage by the dock for over a month waiting on parts to fix major issues on the boat - transmissions and rudders.

I've had someone tell me it's all about your attitude. I admire people who can just buckle down and say, "OK this thing sucks but I'm going to just be happy anyway." If I had that sort of emotional discipline, I wouldn't be carrying around 20 extra pounds. I've also had land-bound friends wonder how you could possibly ever claim the right to be depressed when you're living the life in paradise. You know the answer to that one, the exceedingly well-used (or abused) phrase "Cruising is fixing your boat in exotic places" thing. Boat maintenance brings with it physical pain (at least for those of us who are aging boat owners), stress over money (unless you are independently wealthy), and endless frustration because you can't find things, parts are unavailable, you don't have the proper tools or expertise, or the weather is not cooperating.

Ah The master of highs and lows, if you'll pardon the pun. The weather rules the cruising life and, inevitably, the sun will be bright and too hot when you need to do stainless polishing, the wind and rain will be ice cold when you have to travel down the ICW, the storm will be the strongest when you have people anchored too close, and rain will pin you inside a very small space for days. But that pristine steel blue sky after a cold front? The salty, light breeze whispering through the palms on shore? The deep reds and golds of a sunset reflected in the clouds? We live in the weather and these stunning displays that so many land dwellers miss are the stuff of good cruising dreams.

For me, navigating the highs and lows involves finding ways to maneuver things around me to a manageable flow. One of the ways I do this is through lists. I am a meticulous list keeper. I put everything on The List no matter how small, just so I can check it off. Checking something off makes me feel like I'm accomplishing something, like I'm making some progress. If I'm installing a new bilge pump then the list might get four entries: research type of pump to buy, buy pump, run wiring, install pump. I do this, because many projects take days and if I just put, "install new bilge pump", I might not get to check off anything for a week. I will end each day feeling like I haven't accomplished anything. If the lows are getting to me, I find something quick and easy to get off the list and I immediately feel better. This approach doesn't work for everyone. Tim absolutely hates lists. He feels like they sit there mocking him, a constant reminder of his inability to stay on top of things. Fortunately for us, the two of us are bummed by different things so we rarely are at the low together and can encourage each other. You have to decide what works for you and for your partner if you're in a relationship

Another way to maneuver things around me to make it better is by simply taking a break. Go for a walk. Watch a funny movie. Read a book. Play a game. Cook a new recipe. Call a friend. Announce a day off and go for a hike in the park or a bike ride. Blow the conch horn at sunset. Anything that will allow you to take a deep breath and renew your energy to tackle things again.

All of life is waves and cycles and seasons, something that you don't think of much when you're living on land, but something that is acutely accented when living on the water. I wouldn't trade the intensity of life here for anything. Sure, it comes with the cost of those deep lows, but that's a price I'm willing to pay. Any life richly lived comes with a cost. I'm learning to find ways to mitigate the depth of the lows and, in the process, I'm accumulating a wealth of memories, experiences, and stories for the grandkids. So if you're planning to cruise some day and you hear fearsome stories of weather and boat maintenance nightmares, don't let them scare you away.

It's a life well lived and worth every bit of effort.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The List and The Pile Part II

We've been here just a little over a month so far. Worker Man is settling into a bit of a routine, and I have many more checks on The List than I did a couple weeks ago. Besides trying to work around sharing the tools that are too expensive to duplicate (the ratcheting crimper, for instance), the projects have gone remarkable smooth. I confess to having tackled some of the shorter projects just to be able to check some off, and the longer projects are looming on the horizon now that most of the shorter ones are getting checked off. For those who care to see what a summer of upgrades looks like, here's the status.


  1. Remove old shower sump box
  2. Install new shower sump box
  3. Re-route fridge drain into new shower sump box
  4. Move old bilge pump to new position as backup (glass new mount into bilge, use existing wiring)
  5. Remodel old shower sump box into storage box for Coke cans
  6. Install new bilge pump (glass new mount into bilge, run new wiring from bilge to battery and from bilge to switch panel)
  7. Install new 3-way bilge pump rocker switch
  8. Make new chafe guards out of Sailrite boat blanket
  9. Make new windlass cover
  10. Make new jerry can covers for water jugs
  11. Make zippered flag sleeve for US flag
  12. Make new shelf support bracket for middle of electronics charging shelf
  13. Install new LED strip light in aft cabin with dimmer switch
And while not exactly boat projects, there were tons of administrative things that needed tackled like doing taxes, opening a new bank account here, making a doctor's appointment, suspending our InReqch till fall and sending out our headsets for refurbishment.

Yet to do:
  1. Install 12V plug in cockpit
  2. Install iPad mount in cockpit
  3. Rebed ports (13)
  4. Paint nonskid
  5. Refinish all the teak on the exterior of the boat
  6. Refinish hatch screen frames interior
  7. Make cockpit enclosure
  8. Find new whisker pole
  9. Find new spare anchor
  10. Polish stainless
  11. Replace leaking galley faucet
  12. Mount new bus bar in battery box
And tons more administrative things like getting new Florida drivers licenses, making dentist appointments, glasses for Tim, registering our EPIRB and renewing our boat insurance.

Are you tired yet? I am, so off to bed, but before I go, here's a picture for you to enjoy. I'm putting it here to remind us why we're working so hard.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Asking too much?

People who repair and modify flying machines fall into two broad categories known as “airframe” and “powerplant” mechanics. Those are the two licenses one must earn to legally add an entry to an aircraft's maintenance log books, entries that are required when ever there is work performed and, yes, there is one logbook for the “airframe” and as many “engine” logs as there are engines installed. Often there is a “propeller” log as well, and there was (when I left that world) a growing reliance on an “avionics” log.

Those who are airframe mechanics are very often, just by the nature of the work, sheet metal experts. Cutting, riveting, drilling holes, adding equipment, fixing fatigue failures and addressing corrosion issues all being a routine part of the mechanic's work day. Every single one of them that I ever knew carried a six inch rule that was marked in 1/100s of an inch. In their tool box was a 12 inch rule also marked in 1/100s of an inch. Nearly everything we did was measured to the 1/100th, particularly rivet edge distances and spacing. It was precision work and one rarely, if ever, just “punched a hole”. Mine are now among the tools traveling around in my boat mechanic's golf cart.

They have yet to be put to use.

And so it came to pass that my job assignment for that last couple of weeks has included replacing parts on a brand new 31' cruising, tug style, power boat that had a “lift incident” before it was ever commissioned. Damage included the equipment mast on top of the boat, a steel tube contraption supporting RADAR, GPS, lights, and horn that can be folded down to the deck to get under a bridge. (Or for towing. This thing is sitting on a trailer.) There are big fiberglass cuffs mounted to the top of the cabin sides and around the front of the boat called an “eyebrow” that need replaced. The VHF antenna was shattered, there are scuffs and dents on the rub rail, various bits were ripped out of their supporting fiberglass while hand rails along the top of the boat were bent into new and unusable shapes. All of the headliner and some of the interior side panels had to be removed to reach the various bolts and fasteners attaching bent parts to the boat.

When we are all done the boat will have to still be “new”. It can't sport the dings, scrapes, mars, and marks accumulated when people move around the inside of anything. New owners pay for the privileged of leaving those initial scars. Cardboard gets laid on the teak floor, covers rest over the seats and counters, set no tools down on an unprotected surface, do no damage. Which, of course, is not entirely possible, but we do the best we can.

This Tug's interior, like Kintala's, is mostly wood that has been sanded and oiled, not painted or varnished. It is pretty, and damned tender. One can hardly touch it without leaving a mark, let alone slip another piece of wood over it while removing interior parts. Even sweat will stain this stuff and, given that we are working in the Florida Sunshine on a boat sitting out in a storage yard, there is a lot of sweat readily available for staining. I will never, ever, buy another boat where the interior isn't finished in some way to be a bit more durable. Trying to work this Tug without leaving a trail of evidence behind is an endless exercise in frustration, and is adding hours of labor to the bill.

"So what", you might be wondering, "has any of this to do with measuring sticks calibrated to 1/100th of an inch?

Well, I have discovered an interesting thing while drilling new parts to go on where the factory-installed new parts were just removed. Apparently boat builders don't own ANY kind of measuring device. Just “punching a hole” is the way they roll. As a result a row of holes for a hand rail will not end up centered in the fiberglass molded into the top of the cabin, but will angle across it. The hole at one end fouling the inboard edge, the hole at the other bored through the outboard edge. The rail is not aligned with the center axis of the boat on the outside. Worse, on the inside, the bolts get tangled up with the edges of things like interior panels. The builder didn't notice or care because, at the factory, the rails went on before the interior went in. And no one (but me apparently) notices that the rails are not mounted square on the boat.

But it sure matters to the person trying to change the rail without trashing nice looking wood bits. This particular goof changed the 5 minute job of removing three nuts and then installing three nuts into a 45 minute exercise in switching wrenches, getting a half-flat turn, climbing back outside the boat to tap the bolt in a little deeper, and climbing back inside to get another half-flat turn. There are, keep in mind, gobs of sealer involved since these are outside-to-inside bolts; sealer that can't be allowed to touch any part of the interior. Hands, tools, and clothing to be checked and cleaned as necessary on each trip to the cabin top and back, just to be sure. Leaving a big smudge of 5200 on the seat at the table would be a major faux pas.

And that is the easy, port side, install. How the starboard side will go on is a mystery yet to be solved.

Just to add to the fun yesterday - pretty much right in the middle of this exercise - a broker showed up to show the boat to prospective buyers! So there I am, tools carefully placed so as not to be touching any new surface, shirt sweat soaked, bits and parts scattered everywhere, smiling and happy at having the chance to work on such a pretty, well constructed, and first class boat. (You didn't know that acting is a required skill for anyone working in retail maintenance?)

Now I have to admit that “just punching a hole” can be liberating. Chuck up a bit, pick a spot somewhere in the general vicinity, pull the trigger and set fiberglass dust to flying. No messing around measuring things and leaving pencil marks, lining stuff up with other stuff or worrying about straight lines. Just make a hole.

Close enough is good enough.

On the other hand...list price for this Tug is $288,000. One would think, for that kind of money, they could afford a couple of measuring sticks. Not necessarily ones marked in 1/100th, but hitting it within a inch or so shouldn't be too much to ask.

Should it?

Friday, April 29, 2016

Air conditioner install

(Ed note: several readers requested more details on the installation of the a/c window unit after my previous post.)
If you've been following this blog for awhile, you know that we elected to remove the inboard air conditioning system before we left to go cruising because it occupied the entire largest closet on the boat. We needed the space for clothes, books, electronics, my Sailrite, and our vacuum. Alas, we never dreamed that we would spend so much time on the dock in the summer, where breeze rarely flows through the hatches the way it does at anchor. Three months at Cooley's Landing in Ft. Lauderdale would have been an impossibility without air. Same thing here in Southwest Florida.

When we were in Ft. Lauderdale, we bought a Shinco portable a/c that actually worked really well. The only problem with it was that it was huge and took up the entire nav station where it had to reside in order for the exhaust hose to reach the port. Since we were going to be on the dock here for eight months, I wanted to have the interior of the boat as clean and free of clutter as possible. Clutter bugs me anytime, but particularly when I'm chin deep in boat projects. After some discussion, Tim and I decided to look into the possibility of a window unit set on deck

We had tried a window unit once before, but never really got it set up in any way that it was efficient. After multiple trips to Lowe's and Home Depot with a measuring tape, pencil, and paper, I figured that we might just be able to fit the 12,000 btu window unit on the side deck with enough room to run some insulated ductwork to the ports. It was going to be tight, but it looked doable.

I had originally hoped to place the unit facing the ports, but the insulated duct is huge and unwieldy so I ended up having to turn it sideways. I removed the insulation for the first 6" or so and then taped the silver outside layer directly to the air conditioner with Gorilla tape, one duct  surrounding the outflow area of the grill and leading to one port, and another duct taped around the inflow area of the front grill and leading to another port at the other end of the salon, directly over my galley stove. Getting the tape goo off in the fall will require lots of Prism, but there really wasn't any other way to seal it. The two-duct approach works well because then the heat from cooking goes straight into the a/c and returns nice and cold. Genius.

The end result is at about my limit for trailer-parkishness, but it's on the side of our boat that faces the aluminum sided boat shed, so no one has to look at it but me. I did manage to get it done in one day in spite of the duct from hell, and the smile of relief on Tim's face when he came down the companionway after working in the heat all day was worth the effort.

I would love to have an inboard a/c again, but we just don't have the space anywhere on the boat. In addition, we sometimes need the a/c while on the hard doing bottom work, a time when inboard a/c doesn't help, so for now, this solution is what works the best. As they always say, everything on a boat is a compromise.

The port over my galley stove is the hot air return

This duct goes from the outflow portion of the grill to the port over Tim's settee.

The longer duct goes from the galley port over my stove to the intake grill on the a/c

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Power of Can't

(This post is dedicated to Catherine, Mary, Kali, Edie, and Sophia, my girl-child grandkids)

After nearly three years of 24/7 companionship with my captain, I've found myself struggling with the long days of being without his company while he's off being Worker Man. I'm so used to being able to catch him for some quick feedback on a project I'm working on, or having the extra pair of hands in a particularly difficult reassembly of some boat bit, that I've found myself floundering occasionally over a particularly difficult problem. So it was today, as I stood there looking at the unbelievably heavy and unwieldy box containing our new air conditioner sitting in the back of New Boss' borrowed SUV. It wasn't really all that heavy at 72 pounds, not at least for a former gym nut used to lifting 90 on the weight machines. But let me tell you, 90 pounds on a nice, well-maintained gym machine is a lot easier to lift than 72 pounds of unbalanced air conditioner contained in a perfectly square cardboard box the exact length of my arms. Hmmmm.

Out came our nifty 150# max capacity hand cart that we used to haul groceries and beer in while cruising. This got the box from the back of the truck to the steps we climb to get on the boat. Hmmm.

Not wanting to send our newly acquired air conditioner to join the assortment of tools, hardware, and sunglasses in the water dockside, my first thought was, "I can't do this without risking the air conditioner or my back." Help was in order. I returned New Boss' truck and went to searching for Tim, figuring since it was break time he might be able to give me a quick hand before returning to work. His golf cart was parked in sight, but no Tim anywhere. Hmmm. "I guess I can't get it done today."

I headed back to the boat in hopes of corralling a dock mate but, alas, no fellow dock mates were to be found. "I can't" whispered through my subconscious again. I was frustrated, because it was supposed to be near 90° this afternoon and the one goal I had for the day was to have the A/C up and running before Worker Man came home from his long day working outside in the heat. Hmmm.

I was standing on deck looking down angrily at the offending object on the finger pier, one hand on hip, one hand holding onto the spare halyard we have tied to the stanchion to balance myself. Duh. Spare halyard. The one we use to lift the 75 pound dinghy. Duh.

I gathered up our ratcheting straps, bound the box with them, threaded the spare halyard through them and into a bowline and, with the help of our mast winch and my favorite winch handle, had the air conditioner on deck and positioned port side in about 3 minutes flat. In fact, it turned out to be the easiest part of the install, as cutting, fitting, and fastening the monstrosity of insulated flex duct really kicked my butt for the next four hours.

I try not to belabor the issue of the gender gap, especially on this blog where we try hard to leave politics aside, but the air conditioner incident brought forward in my thoughts all the very many, very recent times I've heard my female compatriots utter the words, "I can't."  I can't go cruising because I'll never learn to sail. I can't get my captain's license because I'm not smart enough. I can't fix my water pump because I don't know how. I can't leave this job I hate because I don't have enough money. I can't, I can't, I can't. Those two simple words are the some of the most powerful words in the world. They belittle their speaker. They strike hope from the spirit. They cut dreams down at the knees.

I'm the first one to acknowledge I have a leg up because I was born to a creative mother, an engineer father who taught me well, two older motor head brothers, and I've had the unspeakable fortune to be with an encouraging and supportive partner for 44 years. But the reality is, you can. So next time you hear the words "I can't" in your mind, stop and regroup. Find help if you need it, seek encouragement if you can find it, but keep moving and change your "I can't" to "I can." I promise you that the success of accomplishment will be the sweetest victory you've ever experienced.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Do You Remember?

Pascagoula Run's empty slip
This morning, coffee in hand, I headed down the dock two slips to our friends Joel and Emily's boat Pascagoula Run to crew for Joel as he made the first 22 mile run of his cruising adventure. It was sunny and warm, the sky azure, punctuated with cotton puffs and Osprey. The water was a deep navy blue with light ripples dancing across the surface, beckoning.

Tim wistfully looking on
Joel, his dad and I cast off the lines as a wistful Tim looked on from the dock before heading off for his day as Worker Man. Fenders were stowed and lines coiled. Tracking was started, routes up and running, and Pascagoula Run's bow was pointed out the ever-so-narrow exit from the boatyard's basin.

Bow pointed out the exit of the boatyard
Two opening bridges later, we entered Sarasota Bay, a smallish piece of sailable water in the ICW, a rare treat. Electing to roll out just the headsail for the short run down the bay, Pascagoula Run tracked right down the rhumb line at a respectable 4.7 knots, close hauled. Rolling up the sails 4 miles later to pass under the Ringling bridge, the engine back online, we turned eastward and picked up a mooring ball at Marina Jack's. Within minutes the dolphins showed up to lend their seal of approval.

It was a good day. It was good to be reminded of how far we've come these last few years, to remember our first opening bridge with our halting radio communications, to remember our nervous nailbiting as we approached our first fixed bridge and refused to see how our mast could actually fit beneath it, to remember the first time we picked up a mooring, complete with audience. It was good to see how completely this life has become ours, and to realize again that this is life at its best - full, rich, zesty, not without risk, and deeply poetic. Thanks Joel and Emily and Happy Sailing.

Checking the charts near the shallow spot

Dad's turn at the tiller
First opening bridge
A floating billboard

Look Ma! No engine!

No way is this going to fit...

Are you SURE it's going to fit?

One happy boat on the mooring
One happy captain on his boat.